It was not lost on me that I read most of this section while my three oldest boys, dressed as ninjas, ran in and out of the room, engaged in an ongoing sword fight/kidnapping plot/tickle war with my husband.
As I joined in some of the action, I could recognize what Dr. Jaak Panksepp has found in his studies, as shared by Heather Shumaker in her book,It’s OK Not to Share (*affiliate link):
“…Rough-and-tumble play helps to develop the brain’s frontal lobe, including the prefrontal cortex. This is the key region for executive function…”
Those executive functions include impulse control, something I was actually seeing in full display. The sword strikes, the karate kicks — all these actions that may have seemed like out of control, aggressive play– were all well-regulated. No one actually got hurt. The boys were actually having an intense workout in self-control, despite what one might make as quick assumptions from a superficial observation.
In fact, another early education expert cited in the book, Dan Hodgins says, “It’s just as important to roughhouse with kids as to read them a story.”
As adults, we are sometimes uncomfortable with high-energy (and high-noise!) play. We cringe at the imaginative themes that may appear to be too violent and aggressive. We worry that violent play may lead to violent kids and then violent adults.
The irony is, as that as play researcher Stu Brown examined the play histories of some of the worst criminals, he found that there was often a severe LACK of play in their childhoods. Play — with all its physicality, all its complex themes, and all its risk — is what helps kids to develop in normal, healthy ways. When we restrict that play unnecessarily, science tells us there are consequences.
(Read more on this in my post Is There Danger in Play or More in its Absence?)
This section is full of powerful research and a few thoughts that may push you outside of your comfort zone a bit. In fact, there’s so much great information, that it’s been divided for discussion purposes. Part 1 (pgs 193-233) is addressed here and will be discussed in a G+ chat with Heather Shumaker, along with Jaime Reimer of Hands On As We Grow. With about 9 sons between us (if I counted right) I think it’s safe to say we’re familiar with rough-and-tumble play. It should be a great chat!
(Video will be posted here as soon as it’s recorded. Past posts and videos can also be found on the kick-off page for this series.)
(*Be sure to check out Jamie’s blog at Hands On As We Grow.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this first half of Section 4 before we have our discussion! What would you ask Heather? Have you had to learn to adjust your comfort level or more clearly state your boundaries when it comes to rough-and-tumble play?
Here are a few concepts/quotes from the section that might get some ideas flowing (they did for me!):
- “Misbehavior is usually a sign that our expectations are not right.”/ “Normal child behavior gets demonized in homes and preschools.”
- Trying to make “boys behave like girls”.
- Exploring power, strength, and courage through play though the form it takes may not be to our liking as adults.
- Even “aggressive”, “violent” play can be pro-social.
- Setting appropriate limits for rough play and maintaining adult limits and authority while letting children experiment with power.
- “Cut their screen time, not their play.”
Add your thoughts in the comments section, or begin at the beginning!
I am really excited for this discussion. I haven’t read the book- yet! But I wonder how she approaches this when working with schools. It’s been a concern of mine. Where I am there is full day Kindergarten and a 30 minute recess (after lunch)- and that’s it. They are pretty proud of those full thirty minutes, and I do applaud them that recess hasn’t disappeared altogether or been cut to only 15 minutes like in some schools. However, that still seems like such a small amount of time, to me. Especially since we spend a lot of time out of doors. I have spoken with the principal and am so pleased to say that they are more than willing to work together with me- potentially doing half day kindergarten and such. I am just curious if she has done or seen done other approaches to working with schools and play.
Great question, Andrea! I have to admit that as we were checking out new schools for our move, I laughed to myself as I was comparing who had the MOST recess, not the least as some parents might do. I think it’s worth asking as well, how much play and movement is incorporated into the day outside of recess. Like you, I applaud any school that makes an effort to preserve the free, unstructured play format of recess, but like Heather said, kids need movement all day long. So I think it’s worth asking teachers and administrators how they work to incorporate meeting that need into the whole day.
Kristin Bjorn says
Thanks for the great article. When I was teaching kindergarten, I learned that some children (perhaps most) can learn or sit still, but not both at the same time. It’s so important to have the times of free, imaginative, crazy play. It’s also important to integrate some freedom and movement into everything we do with children so that they don’t become stifled by having to sit still and learn.